The day’s work was done, and I hooked a ride back to the church with Walter.

The day’s work was done, and I hooked a ride back to the church with Walter.

Let’s look around a little, he said as we got into his pickup. Walter, from Holt, Mo., was a volunteer spending weeks in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in late 2005. It was 15 weeks after Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of the Gulf Coast, and his job was to size up which projects fit crews like ours, a church group of 10 or 12 or 30 with maybe a week to work, sweat, cry a little, work some more. That whole week was about gutting homes to get them ready for new Sheetrock, new doors and windows, new furniture and, eventually, some family’s renewed sense of hope.

As the sunlight began to fade, we drove around Waveland, which is right next to Bay St. Louis. There wasn’t much. A wharf was in rough shape, and one shrimper was put-putting in toward his dock. Mostly, though, we drove past lot after lot where the storm had left nothing but a bare concrete slab that until Aug. 29, 2005, lay under someone’s home. The houses that did remain looked bad.

After 45 minutes of this,Walter stopped and pointed at one house.

That one, he said, might make it. As for the rest, well ...

A year later, back in Waveland for another relief trip, things were only very slowly getting better. Our crew hung Sheetrock for a couple who had the resources to start over and rebuild the same home they had before – only elevated nine feet, which they hoped would be enough to ride out the storm surge of the next big hurricane. Here and there, we saw pockets of rebuilding.

But just as a minister told me it took Bay St. Louis 10 years to recover from Hurricane Camile in 1969, it will be a very long time before New Orleans or the rest of the Gulf Coast fully bounce back from Katrina and Rita in 2005.

There’s something funny about humans. I’m pretty sure I had never heard of Bay St. Louis, Miss., until some church assigned me to a group and said that’s where we were going. I have thought of it every day since. I still get letters from one resident. I wish I could be there Sunday, for the fifth anniversary of the storm, for what purpose I don’t know other than to just be there.

Actually, presence is a big part of it. Most of the attention then and now with the anniversary has been on New Orleans. I get it. It makes sense. A major American city was all but destroyed, and much of the disaster was manmade. I did one relief trip to New Orleans, too, have been to Chalmette and the Lower Ninth, have heard the anger in people’s voices and the seen the desperation in their faces.

But people forget.

Headlines fade, and the world moves on to the next crisis. Look at the day-after-Christmas tsunami in 2004 that killed 75 times as many as Katrina. Look at Haiti’s earthquake early this year or Pakistan’s floods now. People forget.

So “Katrina” becomes simply “New Orleans” in the public mind, and the people in Mississippi and elsewhere get overlooked. I really think the later relief trips I did were equal parts swinging hammers and simply telling people, with our very presence, that America had not forgotten them.

This much needs to be said: The Katrina of New Orleans was horrible, not least because a levee system that had been predicted to fail when the big one hit did in fact fail. Evacuation plans relied on people driving somewhere when one-quarter of the city’s population didn’t own a car. Again, a failure that came by design. And our nation’s response simply wasn’t what it should have been.

But the Katrina of Mississippi – of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, just an hour east of New Orleans – also is a compelling story. Katrina made landfall three times. It rolled across Florida – powerful enough to kill half a dozen people – and then got into the warm waters of the Gulf and became the storm we remember. In its second landfall it raked across the southern tip of Louisiana, south of New Orleans.

Then it hit Waveland, full on and without mercy. It’s right on the Gulf. There is no seawall. What the storm didn’t scrape away it left twisted and wrecked.

So they rebuild. Volunteers help some. The United Methodist Church built a semi-permanent compound in Waveland to house volunteers who over time put up 100 homes and reburfished thousands more before finally closing the facility earlier this year.

But the body blows keep coming. Many people live on the Gulf Coast for good weather, good food and cool breezes off the water. Many others depend on it for a living, and this year’s oil spill – another entirely preventable failure by design – has put much of that in jeopardy. But already the headlines have begun to fade, and people will forget.

And the people of Waveland and New Orleans, of Pearlington and Bay St. Louis are left to clean up a big mess and keep putting the pieces back together. Keep them in your prayers.